And now for something completely the same

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Concluding our two-part post from yesterday…

Whenever someone tells me that they would still work even past the time when they no longer need to, I look at them befuddled.  Since I can’t fathom that motivation, I don’t argue the point.  I recognized early on in life that what I looked forward to most about work was the time when I would no longer.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy some of my time working.  I started out in a big retail chain as an assistant manager.  I worked ridiculously long hours for ridiculously low pay and probably had the most fun of any part of my working life.  Sadly, my mouth (ever my downfall) got me transferred into the main office and thus began a life of desk jobs of varied importance and titles.  (For those at home, I don’t look at writing as work.  Perhaps if I’m someday faced with a publisher’s deadline, but until then, no.)

So it was, after a series of promotions at my last company, that I began an aggressive plan to retire “early”.  A combination of wise investing, small expense structure (no spouse, no kids, no expensive habits) and the inevitable overpaid salary that comes from upper management and I had developed a solid plan of departing the (corporate) working world by 50.  It became a running joke at my staff meetings, where at some point I would look at an imaginary count-down clock on my bookshelf and one of my direct reports would laughingly ask how much time was left.

Based on a coincidence of timing, my departure from my company would have also tied into an anniversary of my hiring, so it all seemed like destiny.  Alas, circumstances caused a parting of ways just one year too early (perhaps I’ll go into that some other post).  In another coincidence of timing, that parting came just after my massive investment into remodeling my home.

A simple man with simple desires, I had never needed changes to my home on a regular basis.  Without kids or pets, everything in the house barely looked aged, even after a decade living there.  All that came to an abrupt end due to an angry lady named Wilma, who took a good portion of my roof with her on her short, but expensive visit.

While I replaced the roof immediately, I hemmed and hawed at fixing up the interior because I really wanted to redo the whole place and I had that planned post-retirement.  Finally, I gave in and spent the money.  One thing about me, when I finally go to spend, I go all out.

The remodel gave me an opportunity to work on the one thing that was missing from my patio, too:  ceiling fans.  Sure, the patio faced east and the sun was on the other side of the house when the barbecues took place, but it’s South Florida.  All I had was a tall oscillating fan in the far corner of the patio.  Unacceptable.

Not only did the remodel do everything I wanted with the place (bigger kitchen, new appliances!), but it provided me a reason for having even more barbecues!  By this time, I had retired my classic Char-Broil grill and upgraded to a larger Weber.  With new patio furniture and some strategic redesign of the area, I could also fit an additional folding table and comfortably seat about 16 people.  I also got smarter with the serving part, buying the types of heated food trays you see at picnics (with the little sterno containers underneath to keep the food hot).

Billing them as my “Grand Re-Opening” barbecues, I had to space them out over several weeks to accommodate all the invitees.  Amazingly, my white carpets suffered no stains or drips despite the quantity of people and food moving back and forth.

That was two years ago.  I held a few more barbecues that year, but even then was thinking about the upcoming year, for my 50th birthday.  The story of those plans and how that unfolded is more than I can squeeze into this post (perhaps I’ll go into that some other post), so let me stay on-topic and talk about my hosting preparations.

Seeing as that would be the “barbecue to end all barbecues”, I decided to hold it at a large county park.  Given my reputation for excess, you might think I tried to outdo myself, but in fact I realized that, if anything, I needed to scale back some.  Not the main courses, mind you, that still included ribs, chicken, burgers, hot dogs and sausages (which were the big hit) and the usual side dishes.  No, the reduction was more on the pre-munchies (although I still provided Goldfish, crackers and such).  And, for the first time ever, I went out on a limb and bought some beer (I think I played it safe with Coors and Amstel, but what did I know?).  It was either great fun or a miserable time, depending on who you asked.  I never actually got to eat all day, which was a little more than my addled body could handle.  I vowed not to ever do something like that again.  But it was cool.

A couple weeks back, my old childhood friend was in town and I invited him and his friends over for a barbecue.  By this time, I was big on scaling back.  Still cheese and veggie plates, still crackers and nuts, but only ribs and burgers for main meal and only beans and mac & cheese for sides.  Still, they were flattering with their praise and my friend suggested I ought to do the hosting thing as a business.  I laughed and hoped I didn’t turn white.  What a horrible thought!

For the glory and the terror of hosting these get-togethers is all the work that goes into trying to get it “just right”.  Timing the cooking so the hot foods are hot but the cold foods stay cold.  Picking the right desserts.  Getting all the cleaning done before everyone arrives.  Hoping people don’t come too late but always with so many last minute rush items that I’m hoping they don’t come early.  It’s a combination of mad anxiety and thrilling pride.  I wouldn’t pass up on any chance to do it again, but I would never want to do it with any more pressure than what I create myself.

And now, with just a normal, everyday birthday looming just a month and a half away, I think it’s time to plan a nice, scaled-back barbecue to gather some friends together for some food and laughs.  Maybe this time I’ll even get a chance to sit down and eat with them.

But I wouldn’t bet my grill on it.

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